A RURAL FARM TALE IN MASS-PRODUCED TIMES
Over the past few years, countless food production/anti-fast food and agribusiness documentaries have been released via independent artists and big-budget Hollywood studios, most of which all offer critical inside perspectives on the food production industry.
Despite this, very few of these films offer intimate and candid portrayals of the lives of rural folks and farmers. The Great Fear is an exception. The Great Fear is a film in production directed and written by Iain Laird, Vancouver-based filmmaker and artist.
A graduate of SAIT’s film and video production program in Calgary, Laird has worked in Toronto, Vancouver and Southern Alberta in broadcasting, television and has had experience working on smaller web-series projects and music videos, as well as releasing his first major film, Pound of Pure, in 2008.
Laird’s film, The Great Fear, set for a limited release coming in April 2015, tells the story of a lonely, prairie-based Montana farmer named Victor (played by actor Gerrick Winston), who is confronted by a massive agribusiness corporation after a “questionable inspection” of his farm for contaminated crops. While Victor’s fate is yet undecided, his ability to make ends meet begins to deteriorate, so he rents out his second property to a woman named Meryl (played by actress Erika Walter) and they become friends. Laird’s inspiration for the film’s title came from his fascination with a particular point in history, of a similar name, which took place during the French Revolution. The film’s title itself alludes back to this moment, of which Laird says he believes is a critical point for understanding the hierarchical controls of food processes.
“The Great Fear is a modern retelling of that historical moment… There was a huge rebellion between the peasants and the ruling class (the aristocrats) and the ‘Great Terror’ was fuelled by rumours of grain shortages and a ‘famine plot’ to starve the population. What interests me most about that is when you have a ruling class and a working class and you basically mess with the food supply, which is one of the main things in the hierarchy of needs, revolutions can be born. What I see happening nowadays with genetically modified organisms is that there is something almost vaguely familiar — and I know that history has a habit of repeating itself, regardless of whether or not big agriculture is cutting corners and is out to make a huge profit at everyone’s expense or trying to stop world starvation.”
While the film’s subject is heavy, Laird believes that not presenting a scathing critique of the agribusiness side of food production via the documentary genre is important because he feels as though his audience will be given a better chance to connect with the story through the experiences of both Victor and Meryl.
“I find that a fictional dramatic narrative can do perhaps more, in some cases, because people have that willing suspension of disbelief: they see these characters onscreen and they empathize with them and in some ways they might even find themselves in the character’s shoes,” he says.
While focusing a film on food production seems a bit of a gamble given the sensitivity of the subject, Laird says that he never wanted his film to be considered a “protest piece.” Instead, it is a sort of labour of love to, in many ways, subtly reveal truths about the way we currently live.
As Laird says, “When I create something I try to shed some light on something that interests me or that upsets me, or something that I find beautiful, and I try to wrap that all into the structure of what I write. With TGF, I don’t want to consider it as much of a protest piece as much as it is showing the effects and the possible effects of what we are going through today in our agribusiness-dominated society. I do know that the core of my story is about connection between people.”
Laird’s film will be shooting throughout the summer in Southern Alberta, and will see a possible limited release next year through outlets like Kickstarter and through various film festivals across North America.
By Therese Schultz